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Old Sichuan 老正川 – Good Sichuan Food in Chinatown

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**For full post and pics**: http://www.lauhound.com/2010/12/old-s...

Last night I went to Old Sichuan 老正川 with some chowhound people. It is a new Sichuan restaurant that is located where the now defunct Yeah Shanghai Deluxe used to be. According to some people on chowhound, it is the same owners as Yeah Shanghai Deluxe.

The owner was extremely nice and very talkative. She runs Old Sichuan and her husband runs Old Shanghai Deluxe down the street. I’m pretty sure she is Shanghainese, but I didn’t ask her specifically. She told us that the chef at Old Sichuan is from Chengdu, which is the capital of Sichuan province. He started cooking when he was 19 and has been cooking for 30 years.

The restaurant is reasonably nice with exposed brick and this weird bridge with a rock formation and water along the wall when you first enter to the restaurant. It’s clean and much nicer looking than most Chinatown restaurants.

On to the food:
- Roasted Peanuts and Seaweed: served at the beginning of the meal. Both of them were pretty standard and self-explanatory, but they were good. 4/5
- Pickled Cabbage (Si Chuan Pao Cai): I’m not a huge fan of this generally, it’s just pickled white cabbage. It’s a good version here though, crispy cabbage, good flavor and not overly sour. 3.5/4
- Ox Tongue & Tripe with Spicy Peppery Sauce (Fu Qi Fei Pian): This a famous Sichuan dish made of thin slices of tendon, tongue and tripe served cold in spicy red oil sauce with chopped up peanuts and chili peppers. The version here is excellent, very clean tasting and you could taste both the ma (numbing sensation) and the la (spicy). I really liked this dish a lot. 4.25/5
- Sliced Pork with Spicy Garlic Sauce (Suan Ni Bai Rou): This was definitely my favorite dish of the night. The dish is thin sliced pork served cold topped with spicy red oil, garlic, chopped peanuts, diced scallions and red chili. The sauce was spicy, but really fragrant and slightly sweet. I really liked this and I could eat a whole plate of this with some rice and be happy. 4.6/5
- Pan Fried Chicken Tiny Bun (Sheng Jian Bao): Normally, I’d never order these at a Sichuan restaurant, but the owner recommended them and I believe she is Shanghainese, so it sounded like a reasonable idea. She told us how they use chicken meat instead of pork, which is the normal meat you use. The bottoms were perfectly crispy, the bun was not too doughy or thin and the meat inside was tender and flavorful. I thought these were really good. 4.4/5
- Water Cooked Fish (Shui Zhu Yu): I think this dish was actually on the specials menu which is only written in Chinese on a blackboard. In this dish, the meat is poached in water then put in a bowl with chili peppers and vegetables and then a bath of hot vegetable oil is poured over it. The result is very tender meat, but a very oily and spicy bath of sauce over it. The fish meat was excellent; it was a clean tasting white fish that was super tender although maybe too tender as it was hard to pick up. Although the sauce was quite spicy, I felt was missing something. When you have a really good version the sauce is very flavorful, but I felt it was a bit under flavored. Overall, I thought it was quite good, but not amazing. 4/5
- Shredded Potatoes with Vinegar Sauce (Suan Liu Tu Dou Si): This was interesting and was recommended by the owner. It was julienned potato strips with a few julienned sliced green peppers and carrots in it. The dish was served hot and had a sour vinegar sauce on it. I thought it was a bit plain; it would’ve been better if it more sour. I wasn’t crazy about it, it would have been better cold. 3.5/5
- Lamb with Cumin Flavor (Zi Ran Yang): This is the typical sliced lamb in cumin. The lamb was very tender here and not gamey. The cumin was not as strong as most places and was also not really noticeable on the outside like it normally is. I liked it, but I think Szechuan Gourmet’s version is better. 4/5
- Chong Qing Dry & Spicy Chicken (Chong Qing La Zi Ji): Generally, I’m not a huge fan of this dish. This is small chunks of dark meat chicken on the bone in a bath of chili. The version here is pretty decent, but I’m still not a huge fan of the dish. 3.75/5
- Sour String Beans with Minced Pork (Suan Dou Jiao Rou Mo): This looks like a Taiwanese dish called cong ying tou, but tastes completely different. It was finely diced snake beans with minced pork and some other vegetables. The beans are sour, but I found the dish oddly bland. It wasn’t bad, but didn’t have that wok flavor or anything all that distinctive about it. I feel like it could be really good, but was just decent. 3.5/5
- Sweet Eight Jewel Taro (Ba Bao Xiang Yu): This was interesting, normally ba bao fan is made with nuo mi (sticky rice), but here she told us a specialty of theirs was to make it out of taro root. It’s a mound of mashed taro that has sweet red bean paste inside it and raisins and dates on top of it. They pour a condensed milk sauce over it. Clearly, an extremely healthy dish! I liked it a lot though, however it is a very Chinese old people type of dish, so I’m quite certain there are a lot of people who would disagree and not like it at all. 4/5

Overall, it was a mix of some very good dishes and some decent dishes, but a lot of promise. I thought the dishes were probably a little better executed than most Sichuan restaurants in the city. I definitely plan on coming back, so I would recommend trying this place out.

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Old Shanghai Deluxe
50 Mott St, New York, NY 10013

Old Sichuan
65 Bayard St, New York, NY 10013

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  1. Great writeup Lau (although it sounds like Bigjeff may have liked the food a little more than you). This place is near my office and has been on my list for awhile. Definitely need to check it out.

    Also, after that other thread, I'm going to start saying "ma and la" now.

    2 Replies
    1. re: ChiefHDB

      well actually i enjoyed it alot although there were a few dishes that were good, but nothing special. its def worth checking out, it is one of the better sichuan restaurants in the city. ill def be back to find more dishes, there were alot of dishes that i wanted to try, but i can only eat so much

      1. re: Lau

        I don't think we expect you to do one of those contests to set a record in the amount you eat in one sitting. :-)

        I used to be a regular when that place was Yeah Shanghai Deluxe. I'll go back and check out some of their Sichuan dishes.

      1. Dined with these gents at OS. Some more perspective on the dishes:

        Ox Tongue & Tripe with Spicy Peppery Sauce- Excellent dish. If you’re deft enough with chopsticks, you can snag a little bit of everything in one grab and get the crunchy tripe, chewy tendon, along with the juicy tongue for a pleasant contrast in toothiness. The ma la comes on nicely and then you blast it all away with a swig of Tsingtao. And of course repeat. Great dish.

        Sliced Pork with Spicy Garlic Sauce- If you describe this dish to a Shichuan neophyte, it does not sound appealing- A cold oily dish, with fried garlic bits, and slices of cold fatty pork. But yeah, this was great. I believe it is sliced pork shoulder- tender meat, some slices with a nice margin of fat. My favorite dish as well.

        Pan Fried Chicken Tiny Bun- Not my scene. I would have preferred pork, rather than chicken. And it’s very filling to eat them early in the meal. The slight char on the bottom of the buns though, was nice.….I hope he doesn’t mind, but I’m gonna reveal Big Jeff’s methodology with these buns. See, he takes one, pries open the crimp on the top with his chopsticks, then gently pours in some vinegar, then reseals the crimp. Then he eats. What a strategy. Do they teach that in Chinese finishing school?

        Shredded Potatoes with Vinegar Sauce- Agree with Lau on this one. Would’ve been better chilled. But I ate a lot of it because it was one of the only things not served in oil.

        Lamb with Cumin Flavor- I prefer gamier tasting meat. Also, I think the onions were undercooked. I like Little Pepper’s version better. Onions are slightly caramelized and sweet and they top the entire dish with cilantro as well. This version was fine but nothing special.

        Chong Qing Dry & Spicy Chicken- I guess some people snack on the peppers, but the entire dish really comes down to about a fistful worth of hacked bits of chicken on bone. I wouldn’t mind a small bowl with just this to nosh on as an appetizer. This was a decent rendition in that most of the chicken bits were not overfried and hard.

        Sour String Beans with Minced Pork- First time I can recall eating these type of beans. I liked the dish and thought the beans were sour enough. But the meat could have been seasoned more. To eat this, you need to spoon some on top of rice.

        Water Cooked Fish- I liked this dish. Lau calls it sauce, but I found it kind of an oily soup. The soggy oil-laden vegetables were I thought unpalatable, but the fish was cooked perfectly and I thought seasoned well so that the subtle sweetness in the meat came out. I didn’t have much problems picking up stuff with my chopsticks. Silverjay chopsticks 5/5, Lau 4.5/5.

        Sweet Eight Jewel Taro- Interesting to try. It’s not particularly sweet and it’s rather heavy for a dessert. All things considered, I’m not really a fan of taro and bean derived desserts. I prolly coulda gone next door and been more satisfied with a lychee ice cream cone. But I’m glad I tried this dish.

        Enjoyed the meal and the company. Definitely want to check out some more of the specials.

        1. I've only been saying this place was good for how long now? Nice to see it get the recognition it deserves.

          1. I'm just curious about the phrase - 老正川 (the restaurant's name)
            Is this how "Old Sichuan" is written in Chinese? ( 老 is 'old' [lau] but the province Sichuan/Szechuan is normally 四川 in my understanding)(Or is it "old is Sichuan", using 川 (river) in the common 'shorthand reference' to Sichuan?) I hadn't thought about it before.

            13 Replies
            1. re: huiray

              well actually si chuan actually means 4 rivers (if you go to sichuan its b/c there are a bunch of rivers there). alot of times you'll see 川 without the 四, so it will be something like 川 菜 which is short hand for sichuan food. as far as 老正, i'm not sure what that means it just seems like a name to me and yeah 老 means old.

              1. re: Lau

                Right! 老正川 (Lao3 Zheng4 Chuan1) just means "Old Sichuan" I think. 川 (Chuan1) yes is another name for Sichuan and 川菜 (Chuan1 Cai4) means Sichuan Cuisine. 正 (Zheng4) is a homophone but here I think means upright or correct and together all three characters just mean Old Sichuan.

                1. re: scoopG

                  Thanks, Lau & scoopG. Yes, I am aware that 川 is often used as a 'shorthand' for Sichuan as I mentioned (and that 四川 is 'four rivers' referring to the 4 main rivers that flow through the province). I hadn't consciously noticed "老正川" being used as equivalent to "Old Sichuan" before. That's what I was asking about. [In Cantonese I seem to remember 正 is 'cheng' - middle flat tone (not Wade-Giles, just my own approximation)]

                  1. re: huiray

                    I took it as a contraction of Lao3 (zhen1) zheng4 chuan4 (cai4) - old real authentic Sichuan food - you often see zhen zheng as a modifier for a cuisine.

                      1. re: huiray

                        Except it should be chuan1, my bad.

                        1. re: buttertart

                          No problem. :-) I assumed you meant 川 .

                    1. re: huiray

                      In Cantonese 正 is jing3 in Yale Romanization, which is the standard.

                    2. re: scoopG

                      Any instance of 老 at a restaurant is meant to connote the same thing as "est. 18xx" in English.

                      正 here is shorthand for 正宗, which translates best to "authentic" in this case. "Orthodox" would be close direct translation, but that often carries negative connotation in English.

                      川 is a shorthand for 四川.

                    3. re: Lau

                      正 .. can tranalate as 海派/hai pai .. meaning traditional and if referencing a person, one can be seen as a purist ..

                      1. re: panjuice

                        I translate the restaurant name as "Old Authentic Sichuan". 正 is short for 正宗, meaning authentic.

                        Lao = old

                        Zheng = authentic

                        Chuan = Sichuan

                        1. re: Cheeryvisage

                          Me too, see above. Your version is more elegant.